Monday, 10 May 2010

Elections and things . . .

Well, you’ll have noticed we’ve been having an election here in the UK! As I write, we’re still having it – we have a result but we don’t yet have a government.

Environmental issues didn’t figure greatly in the campaign. A commitment to a ‘low carbon economy’ was mentioned but not elaborated upon, and was not much discussed. Points of major focus were the economy and likely cuts to public services; Gordon Brown’s standing as Prime Minister; and  immigration / jobs / housing.

That didn’t stop Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, getting elected in Brighton. Ironically, the lack of focus on ‘green issues’ might have helped her – one of the accusations the Greens have had to fight against is that they’re a single-issue party; indeed, sometimes accused of not being a party at all but a pressure group. Lucas has been a Member of the European Parliament for 11 years – a position she will now resign in order to take up her Westminster seat.

This breakthrough – achieved within Britain’s much-debated ‘first past the post’ electoral system – has produced great rejoicing among green activists as well as within the Green Party itself. However, Julian Baggini, writing in the ‘Comment’ section of The Guardian’s website questions whether this is justified. He writes:
“The stark facts are these. Nationally, the Green Party's share of the vote actually went down 0.1% to 1%. In terms of vote share, the BNP (1.9%) and UKIP (3.1%) both did better than the Greens. Nearly twice as many voted BNP as did Green, while three times more people backed UKIP. The BNP almost tripled its support compared to 2005, while UKIP received around half as many votes again as last time.”
While the statistics are accurate, they don’t – in my view – tell the whole story. At the same time as the BNP increased its vote share nationally, it was routed in the Barking and Dagenham constituency, and in the local council; so, in a place where the poll really mattered, their vote didn’t hold up.

Conversely, in many places where the Green party fielded a candidate who had no chance of winning, many Greens chose to vote tactically. This has been a very unusual election – everything is still to fight for, for everyone, at the next one . . . which might be sooner rather than later!

On Saturday, The Guardian published advice – a reading list, no less – for incoming ministers (once anyone knows who they are!). Science writer Fred Pearce, contributed a section on climate change. It’s an excellent reading list for anyone (not just new ministers) who wants to get their head around the issues, and the debates around the issues, and doesn’t quite know where to start amid the plethora of publishing in this field. Here are his recommendations:

So how do you wise up on climate and the environment fast? How do you sound wise, brave and knowledgeable from day one? First, get scared. In environmental politics you have to know the language of doomsday. So read Mark Lynas's Six Degrees. He takes you to climatic Armageddon one degree at a time.

Another handy primer is Bill McGuire's Seven Years to Save the Planet. It answers the question "Why seven years?" – which sounds attention-grabbingly immediate . . . and it provides bite-size answers to other key questions . . . such as "Just how bad can things get?", "Is it OK to fly?" and the all-important "Am I to blame?"

But what you really need is solutions. Nicholas Stern's A Blueprint for a Safer Planet, is subtitled "how to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity". This is not all sunny uplands. Stern explains why the world economy will crash (again) if we don't beat climate change.

Remember Stern was once Gordon Brown's man. Anthony Giddens's The Politics of Climate Change does without a long subtitle but has an endorsement from Bill Clinton. Giddens's strictures about climate policy's being based on gesture politics may be a bit close to the ministerial bone, but you could mull over why the arch exponent of gesture politics likes it so much.

But what people really want is a pain-free panacea. We want huge amounts of cheap energy that doesn't trash the planet. And the Chris Goodall's Ten Technologies to Save the Planet offers exactly what it says on the cover. Goodall is a green who came to love the technical fix.
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